Tuesday, December 31, 2002, Chandigarh, India






National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

Ladakhis get their due
T
HE long wait of the people of Ladakh has come to an end. The Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government has taken an appreciable decision to grant full powers to the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) set up in 1995.

Railwaymen’s strike
A
N appropriate New Year resolution would be to give private citizens the care and respect they deserve by the usually callous official machinery. The latest year-end example of the indifference of those associated with the government, in whatever capacity, was the flash strike by the Central and Western Railway reservation staff on Monday.

Unavoidable visa curbs
I
T is very important to maintain and even enhance the people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan. That is the only way to remove mutual suspicions and misconceptions. But this gesture can become meaningful only if it is reciprocal.


EARLIER ARTICLES

Taxing controversy
December 30, 2002
Gulf war may turn messy
December 29, 2002
Politics of hate
December 28, 2002
Water for all
December 27, 2002
Vajpayee’s political dreams
December 26, 2002
’84 riots: yet another verdict!
December 25, 2002
Now, some governance please!
December 24, 2002
Petrol bomb!
December 23, 2002
Mass movement needed to check criminalisation of politics
December 22, 2002
Scam & punishment
December 21, 2002
Justice under POTA
December 20, 2002
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

 

 
OPINION

Unending wait for the AJT
Who cares for the loss of national assets?
Ashok K. Mehta
A
NOTHER MiG 21crashed while on a routine sortie near Srinagar the other day. The crash had the tragic hallmark with which MiGs have been going down making it the 17th to crash this year. Recently a MiG trainer crashed in Bagdogra in which three valuable assets were lost — an instructor, a trainee and an aircraft. But the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) is still nowhere on the horizon.

MIDDLE

The Bhajji-Veeru predicament
K. Rajbir Deswal
H
ARBHAJAN Singh and Virender Sehwag were caught on the wrong foot when they had to cough out a couple of hundred dollars for wearing those odoriferous shoes that put off even the fish. The “dirty-duo” had been obviously sweating it out, till only a few days back toiling, taking on literally from head to toe the West Indians.

REALPOLITIK

Coping with scams and sleaze
P. Raman
W
HILE L.K. Advani was warning his colleagues at the party’s national executive meeting about the importance of probity in public life, as many as five scams involving the ruling party leaders had hit the headlines. Unlike other leaders, Gujarat victory had not blinded him to the threat posed to the party’s image by the growing number of scams.

Alcohol increases breast cancer risk: survey
A
woman’s risk of breast cancer increases by 6 per cent for every extra alcoholic drink she has a day, researchers say. But smoking, which causes 15 other types of cancer, does not contribute to breast cancer, according to the world’s largest study of women’s tobacco and alcohol habits.

TRENDS & POINTERS

Chemotherapy sans painful side-effects
C
ANCER patients undergoing chemotherapy will no longer have to endure the painful side-effects associated with the treatment.

  • Boys eat cat that stole Christmas dinner

SPIRITUAL NUGGETS



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Ladakhis get their due

THE long wait of the people of Ladakh has come to an end. The Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government has taken an appreciable decision to grant full powers to the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) set up in 1995. This is the result of a seven-point agreement reached between the state government and the LAHDC with Finance and Law Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig being the main brain behind the idea. The council, among other things, will have the authority to accord sanction for development projects up to the limit of Rs 5 crore. This is not a small achievement. This may go a long way towards fulfilling the aspirations of the agitating Ladakhis. The Kargil area will have its own development council as the people there did not want to be part of the LAHDC. Here one notices local politics based on suspicions about each other’s intentions. The unfortunate under-current has prevented the council from being an autonomous body looking after the aspirations of the people of the entire Ladakh region, irrespective of their caste or community. Yet the state government’s declaration represents a significant milestone in its march towards removing the grievances of the people of different regions.

The next step, one believes, will be the creation of regional development councils for Jammu and the Kashmir valley. This may lead to fresh confidence among the people. But the Kargil-type experiment should be avoided in the other regions with a view to discouraging socially divisive trends. The Ladkahis and those living in the Jammu region had a common complaint against the Kashmir-centric policies of the successive state governments. These two parts of the state had been passing through a period of crisis of a kind different from that in the valley. Their development aspirations were getting ignored. The state government concentrated mainly on tackling the problems of those in the valley, resulting in great resentment among the people in the other regions. There were political compulsions, no doubt. But it was bad politics. It cannot be called a wise policy to pamper those who create difficulties for you, and ignore those who suffer silently. The peculiar situation in Jammu and Kashmir should make the Mufti Sayeed government to realise the necessity of such measures as may help bring together all the religious groups in the state. Creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding will strengthen the spirit of Kashmiriyat, so essential for establishing lasting peace in the strife-torn state. The revival of Kashmiriyat in a big way may infuse a new life in the socio-economic and political life of Jammu and Kashmir. It may also help the government's “healing touch” policy to bring about the desired results. There can be no better way to deprive the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists of their sources of sustenance. 

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Railwaymen’s strike

AN appropriate New Year resolution would be to give private citizens the care and respect they deserve by the usually callous official machinery. The latest year-end example of the indifference of those associated with the government, in whatever capacity, was the flash strike by the Central and Western Railway reservation staff on Monday. Normally extra counters should be opened for clearing the massive holiday rush of travellers. Instead, the reservation staff of the two railway zones chose to hold the passengers to ransom by announcing the flash strike. The railway stations in Mumbai, Pune, Jhansi and Agra were overflowing with disappointed and harassed travellers. It left no scope for doubt that the railway staff had once again taken out its anger on those who provided jobs to one of the most inefficient groups of government employees. According to a spokesman of the Central Railway Mazdoor Sangh, the strike would be restricted to one day only, but union leaders from other zones indicated that it could turn out to be a long and cold winter for millions of travellers who had drawn up plans for celebrating New Year at exotic locales. The reservation staff went on strike to protest against the Railway Board’s decision to allot terminals at reservation counters to private travel agents. The spokesmen were not at all clear about the details of the proposal that provoked the employees into taking the patently illegal action.

It is inconceivable that the decision to allow travel agencies to operate reservation terminals was taken without prior notice or consultation with the representatives of the employees. If they had a genuine grievance they should have presented their case before the appropriate authorities and taken the general public into confidence. No newspaper or television channel was provided advance details of the proposal and why the unions were opposing it. The action should now lead to a public debate on the need to give privatisation of the massive railways network a serious thought. Indian Railways runs the largest yet most unsafe and inefficient public transport service in the world. Computerisation of rail reservation initially helped bring down the level of corruption in the advance booking of tickets. But corrupt employees and touts managed to find ways to beat the system. The introduction of the “tatkal” system of reservation of tickets for the Shatabdis was the acknowledgement of their role in subverting the process of booking of berths in long distance and prestigious trains like the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis. The rail reservation staff should set its house in order. Had it been providing passenger-friendly service, there would have been no need for the Railway Board to seek the help of travel agencies for streamlining its operations.

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Unavoidable visa curbs

IT is very important to maintain and even enhance the people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan. That is the only way to remove mutual suspicions and misconceptions. But this gesture can become meaningful only if it is reciprocal. That, unfortunately, has never happened. On the contrary, Pakistan has misused India’s easy visa norms to push in ISI agents. The result is that today there are a total of 11,208 cases of Pakistanis who have entered India legally but are overstaying. Of them, 2,324 have gone missing without trace. That a big mischief is afoot can be gauged from the fact that 90 per cent Pakistanis seeking visas give false addresses. Many of them are believed to be either engaged in terrorist activities or are fomenting trouble by poisoning the minds of impressionable people. When a facility is so blatantly misused, no country can continue to persist with it forever, especially towards a neighbour which has adopted terrorism as state policy. Under such circumstances, the special drive launched by India to identify, nab and deport those who had stayed in the country beyond the time permitted in their visas or had gone missing had become inevitable.

India and Pakistan had signed an accord following the Simla Agreement on issuance of passports, which entitled nationals of both countries to visit a maximum of three places. This accord also restricted the issue of visas only for meeting relatives or for diplomatic purposes. New Delhi had later unilaterally increased the number of places which could be visited by the Pakistanis to 12 and had also started issuing tourist visas. Instead of appreciating this gesture, Pakistan treated it as a loophole and used it to smuggle in spies. Correctives are long overdue. India now plans to restrict Pakistani visitors to three cities and also to get undertakings from local sponsors of Pakistani visitors in order to hold them responsible for the whereabouts of their guests till they leave the country. The restrictions will, of course, cause hardship to some genuine visitors, but that is a small price they should be willing to pay for the misdeeds of their government. The safety of India and its citizens is paramount and subsumes all other considerations. What should also not be lost sight of is the humanitarian Indian proposal to grant citizenship on a case-to-case basis to aged persons who had their kin here or those women who were married to Indian nationals.

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Unending wait for the AJT
Who cares for the loss of national assets?
Ashok K. Mehta

ANOTHER MiG 21crashed while on a routine sortie near Srinagar the other day. The crash had the tragic hallmark with which MiGs have been going down making it the 17th to crash this year. Recently a MiG trainer crashed in Bagdogra in which three valuable assets were lost — an instructor, a trainee and an aircraft. But the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) is still nowhere on the horizon.

The elusive AJT has gone on autopilot mode. Just when it seemed the AJT was finally in sight, and the BAe Hawk had made it, old and new vendors are rushing in with fresh bids. Something fishy is going on even 17 years after the IAF sought the AJT. With the AJT file pending approval by the CCS, Defence Minister George Fernandes recently referred to the delay as coming from “an enemy within”. Is it a case of inhouse (CCS) rivalry or is it a repeat of the IAF’s penchant for cutting off its nose to spite its face. How else would you interpret the IAF allowing the Czechs (whose aircraft, the L 159 B, was rejected earlier) to come back into the reckoning ?

Now Poland has written to India that if India was considering the L 159 B aircraft manufactured by a Czech-US collaboration, the Polish offer of an AJT should also be considered. Russia and Brazil are also reportedly back in the race. With vendors demanding that their bids should be reconsidered, it is unlikely that India will be able to purchase an AJT before the financial year is out, and the money earmarked for the AJT is surrendered.

India has been negotiating with British Aerospace for the Hawk trainer for more than a decade. The price negotiation ended in February this year. In August, Mr Fernandes told a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Defence that the proposal to buy an AJT — the Hawk — would be cleared in a matter of days rather than weeks. On September 27, at a ceremony to induct the Sukhoi aircraft into the Indian Air Force, at Pune, Mr Fernandes was asked about an AJT and left it to the Chief of Air Force Staff, Air Marshal Krishnaswami, to reply. He echoed Mr Fernandes: that the purchase of an AJT was a matter of weeks, if not days.

However, on October 1, at a Press conference Air Marshal Krishnaswami was asked why the purchase of the AJT had been delayed. His reply was that India had got an offer from a Czech-US consortium for the L 159 B and as the parameters proposed by them were similar to India’s requirements, this offer was also being evaluated. It is incomprehensible that while the Defence Minister says one thing, his CAS strikes a variant note. Why ?

Having completed the PNC on the Hawk, the IAF added a postscript: that the Czech L159B should also be evaluated to get out of the single vendor situation. The IAF also believes that since it has waited for 20 years for the AJT, it can wait some more and should not rush into the Hawk deal which is a technology of the 1980s and instead get a contemporary machine for the same price. There is also a view that it is simply absurd to purchase and license-manufacture a trainer when the LCA project is near fruition. An LCA trainer is also an option.

Earlier, Italy, Brazil and Russia had also offered jet trainers to India but these offers had been rejected on the ground that the aircraft did not meet the Air Staff Requirement (ASR) of the IAF. An earlier offer of the Czech trainer had elicited a similar response.

However, two things changed this year. On the sidelines of the CII-organised Defexpo 2002 in February, Mr Antonin Jakubse, Chairman of the Czech state-owned aircraft facility, Aero Vodochody, said: “We are offering the Indians a joint partnership, technology transfer and joint marketing for the L 159B.” At a Press conference he asserted that the Czech AJT offer was 25 to 45 per cent lower than the British Aerospace price for the Hawk.

He also said the Czech training aircraft was backed by the American aviation giant Boeing, which has brought 35 per cent stake in Aero Vodochody.

Also, some time in mid-May 2002, an IAF team led by Group Captain Ramesh Rai, which included representatives from HAL, the MoD and the Finance Ministry visited Czechoslovakia, test flew the aircraft and reported that the L 159 B did, in fact, meet 95 per cent of the ASR for the AJT. But what is not known is that the IAF team flew just 12 sorties on a makeshift version of a two-seater. This was not the L 159 B but actually the very first prototype. The actual L 159 trainer only flew at the Farnborough air show in June this year for the first time. The added attraction is that the Czechs have agreed to a full transfer of technology and delivery of the first aircraft within two years of signing the contract.

Although there is no doubt that the cost of the two aircraft is competitive - the L 159 B will cost around $ 12.5 million apiece while the Hawk is said to be pegged at $14 million apiece — there is no clarity on how the government will overcome the danger that American defence technology represents for India. The case of supply of spares for the Sea King, which was manufactured by the UK under licence from the USA, is a case in point. After the Pokhran tests the supply was suspended after the sanctions and was cleared only a month ago. The L 159 B has American avionics and power plant (engine).

Built into the Hawk contract is the provision that there will be no US components in the aircraft or as part of the product support. It would take BAe one year to sanitise the Hawk of all American parts. India has had to do the same with its Advanced Light Helicopter programme. Contrary to popular belief, the Hawk (India) is not the technology of the 1970s but a souped up airframe with contemporary and customised avionics. It is a brand new aircraft made for Indian conditions. It is, therefore, intriguing that the Czech trainer is being considered at all.

But the strangest episode of the AJT drama unfolded in the third week of October when the IAF instituted yet another technical committee to make a relative evaluation of this aircraft with the Hawk. Within 10 days, the relatively low level-team reported that the “engine and avionics of the L 159 B were both superior to those of the Hawk”, which is seen as completely perverted and irrelevant when, firstly, the avionics are to be largely Indian or French supplied (specifically avoiding American) and when the engine of the Hawk (the Adour) is currently being built by HAL for the ongoing Jaguar production.

You now have a Polish offer. On October 30, Polish company PZL proposed to India joint production at HAL, Bangalore, of the M 93, the successor to the Iskra jet trainer that India had bought earlier. On the sidelines of a defence exhibition in Greece in the first week of October, HAL and PZL representatives had met and hammered out a deal. The formal proposal was sent on October 30 and will be followed by a comprehensive technical proposal. So, where does this leave the Hawk ? Or for that matter, the L 159 B ?

The Defence Minister in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on November 21 said: “Various options for the acquisition of an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) are under examination by the government. No contract for the AJT has been finalised. It would not be possible to lay down a time-limit for such a major procurement project. However, the government is keen on early finalisation of the issue”. On December 4, he said in the Lok Sabha: “The process of acquiring an AJT was at an advanced stage and the matter would be brought before the CCS for a final decision. I regret that the finalisation of the price negotiation has taken a lot of time. But now we have a report where the negotiations have been completed. It is not possible to lay down a time frame for such a major procurement project.”

The AJT saga is taking a bizarre turn. From the statements in Parliament it is not clear whether negotiations have been completed or are being reopened. When new bids are invited, the IAF will have got no closer to acquiring a trainer that it has been demanding since 1986. Nearly 150 aircraft and 60 pilots have been lost for want of an AJT. The 1997 Abdul Kalam report on the committee on fighter aircraft accidents has yet to be implemented in full. In 1996 when the IAF prioritised for the SU 30 MKI, instead of the AJT, one thought they were not serious about the trainer. Six years later it seems they are also in no hurry.

The writer is a retired Lieut-General of the Army.

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The Bhajji-Veeru predicament
K. Rajbir Deswal

HARBHAJAN Singh and Virender Sehwag were caught on the wrong foot when they had to cough out a couple of hundred dollars for wearing those odoriferous shoes that put off even the fish. The “dirty-duo” had been obviously sweating it out, till only a few days back toiling, taking on literally from head to toe the West Indians.

Accepting that the host country has strict laws on import of organisms in microscopic form so as to save their agriculture, the fact remains that in not giving in to obnoxious smells and instead applying perfumes and scents of the choicest brands, the western population and their lifestyle warrants some “treatment” here.

When the top world leaders of today speak, their arguments smack of things that send the affected — or even unaffected — on an olfactory drive, to understand the real intent behind their veiled utterances. One can smell the proverbial rat in their designs. The amount of fumes thus released suffocates those targeted to the extent of repulsion and revolt. But the western ways do have a euphemism for the “soft incense that hangs above the bough” as Keats observed in one of his poems.

The western smells of anthrax, of nukes, of gunpowder; all have fatal properties, typical of the western influence. We the Third World entities need to have a little longer nose to nose it all, particularly when a tragedy as at Bhopal occurs.

I am reminded of our pilgrimage to the place of “The murder in the Cathedral” where poor Thomas Becket, the priest himself, could not smell a rat in the evil designs of destiny, and he ultimately fell a victim to a fishy trap that was laid for him.

Just in the vicinity of the cathedral, we had the occasion of being in the Canterbury Museum, where they have brought alive all the Chaucerian characters, of the tales told by the undisputed Father of English poetry. The depiction was impressive and the curator had taken pains to create an ambience of the medieval times with the help of costumes and habitations of those times, to give a real taste to the visitor.

And then we entered a chamber that smelt as if it had not been cleaned since the fourteenth century—when Chaucer himself lived. The smell was typical of dry-dung and hydrated-haystacks having been (p)reserved for the likes of us—the visitors. The female voice coming from our headphones was prompt enough to inform us that the smell had purposely been created to allow the visitors have a “faithful feel” of the place.

Now I think in retrospection what crime had Bhajji and Veeru committed in genuinely making their hosts feel (faithfully!) that we Indians earn by the sweat of our brows and pay for the sweat in our boots? 

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Coping with scams and sleaze
P. Raman

WHILE L.K. Advani was warning his colleagues at the party’s national executive meeting about the importance of probity in public life, as many as five scams involving the ruling party leaders had hit the headlines. Unlike other leaders, Gujarat victory had not blinded him to the threat posed to the party’s image by the growing number of scams.

Two of the five during the week — UTI-cum-stocks scam running into several thousand crores and the essentially grassroots-level ‘pumpgate’ — had come in for severe judicial and parliamentary scrutiny. The other three were the ones freshly dug out. These may not be as massive as a dozen and half major scams that had rocked during the past four years. But each of the new ones profoundly illustrates the Vajpayee regime’s inability stem to rut settling in the system. Lobbying for contracts and monetary gains in business, favouritism and silent consent to loot the exchequer have all become routine so much so that no one in the government even bothers to take note of them. This further emboldens hangers-on to merrily indulge in deal-fixing without the fear of punishment.

Take the week’s smallest of scandals in terms of the volume involved. In typical Bangaru Lakshman style, a state-level BJP leader was caught taking a bribe of Rs 5 lakh (only as part ‘payment’) from a Surat builder. Like the Tehelka hero, Arvind Godiwala too admitted that the bribe money was meant for the party’s election fund. First the state leadership ignored it and when Godiwala produced proof, he was suspended from the party.

The second case happened right in the Capital’s power centre. A courageous top officer of the customs had brought to the notice of the Chairman of CBEC the pressures being put by the Lok Sabha Speaker’s officer on special duty and a top Shiv Sena leader on him to show favours to a businessman. The multi-edition daily which carried the story also had a photocopy of the customs officer’s complaint.

The two alleged middlemen denied their role in the Rs 22 crore imports scam. But the daily confirms the CBEC Chairman’s prompt acknowledgement of the complaint. This episode is illustrative of the modus operandi of the ways of the hallowed touts and peddlers of power. At the time of writing this, there is no word about the final outcome of the case — whether the businessman got away with it or the Speaker himself has moved to clear the debris.

Heralding of reform, we were told, would mark the end of business lobbying and corruption. Instead of the formally appointed liaison man, Win Chhadas and Quottrochis, big and small, have sprouted everywhere. There have also been a manifold rise in the ‘turnover’, in terms of the volume as well as the stake. Paradoxically, scope for the state’s meddling, and hence scams and sleaze, has only increased in free economies the world over. Unlike us the development economies have at least tried to evolve systems to cope with the situation.

In India, everything is being done to perpetuate the system by encouraging the nexus between the unscrupulous businessmen, touts with links with the politician and bureaucracy or the politician-cum-tout. The partying dealers often seek rewards in the name of the politician and for party funds. They have so well assimilated with the system that you just cannot identify them in this most ‘happening” city. They operate at different levels and in different garbs.

Some time huge concessions running into hundreds of crores are tried in the name of reform and development. Pramod Mahajan’s reported move to bless the private-cellphone firms by reducing the licence fee by half is the latest in the big-time scandals. The move also covers waiving of huge dues from the operators. Hopefully, the Cabinet has not approved it as the Finance Ministry finds it a big drain on the revenue.

Some have put the loss to the exchequer due to proposed bonanza at well over Rs 1,200 crore a year. The same beneficiaries had reaped a windfall gain — some had put the loss to the government at as high as Rs 50,000 crores by including cumulative losses — by forcing the Ministry to convert the fixed licence fee to revenue sharing scheme. It was then called telecommunication scam.

The startling fact is that the four-year Vajpayee regime has the distinction of having surpassed by many times all other previous governments put together — both in terms of the number of scams and quantum of money involved. The list of the published allegations in Parliament or outside with substantial reasoning itself is rather long. Among them Tehelka allegations involving the Defence Minister, his party president and the then BJP president and the land allotment to a large number of RSS outfits are on the top of the list.

In a crude display of partisanship and political favour, nearly 60 per cent of the prime plots on both sides of a centrally located road in Delhi has been gifted to the favourites. No previous government had done it so brazenly. In the petrol pump scam, it was a virtual indictment of the Prime Minister by the Supreme Court for the way he had cancelled all allotments at a stroke. Apparently, this was to avoid an inquiry into the allotment of hundreds of petrol stations, gas agencies and kerosene depots to the RSS and BJP leaders or their relatives. Vajpayee had acted a day after his close relative’s name appeared in the list. Now the apex court has ordered an inquiry into each such case.

The JPC may have spared the Finance Minister. But its conclusion on UTI and stocks scam are highly damaging to the BJP government. Both together have shaken the very faith of the ordinary investors in the stock market, some thing which is central to the free market matrix. The government’s failure to restore the confidence of the average share buyer has been the most important factor for the present sluggish growth. The ‘Mauritious route’ is another scandal by which the country loses hundred of crores of rupees in capital gains tax on foreign institutional investors. One third of the FIIs are using this route.

Then we have separate scams relating to the Kargil procurement, coffingate, Flex industries, Venkaiah Naidu’s land grab (since returned), etc. The PSU sale is a genre apart. The Shiv Sena itself had alleged a big scandal in the sale of Centuer Hotel in Mumbai where the “strategic” buyer has earned a neat Rs 35 crore profit in resale without any value addition. As days pass, more of such skeletons are bound to emerge as the ‘strategic’ buyer — as against open bidding — is pregnant with manipulation.

Most of the scams under the Vajpayee government are much bigger than Bofors and Laloo’s fodder case. The sheer comfort level of the dealers and fixers should cause extreme worry to the BJP. Earlier, Manmohan Singh used to blame the ‘system failure’ for the scams. The tendency today is to put the blame on a department secretary or an individual minister. Collective responsibility is the watchword of the Cabinet system. Any failure on the part of the Prime Minister in this regard will damage his own reputation because scams have a habit of surfacing at the worst time.

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Alcohol increases breast cancer risk: survey

A woman’s risk of breast cancer increases by 6 per cent for every extra alcoholic drink she has a day, researchers say. But smoking, which causes 15 other types of cancer, does not contribute to breast cancer, according to the world’s largest study of women’s tobacco and alcohol habits.

The study, by Cancer Research UK, suggests alcohol accounts for 4 per cent of breast cancers in the developed world and around 2,000 cases each year in Britain.

And the charity warns that if women’s alcohol consumption continues to increase, this figure is likely to rise. But the researchers also point out that women who drink are at a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than non-drinkers.

Dr Gillian Reeves, one of the report’s authors, said: “The balance between the harmful effects of alcohol on breast cancer and its beneficial effects on heart disease depend on a woman’s age. Before about 60, breast cancer is a more important cause of death than heart disease. After the age of 65 or so when the risk of heart disease becomes much greater than the risk of breast cancer, the benefits of moderate drinking are more apparent.’’

The researchers combined the results of more than 50 studies and included data on around 1,50,000 women from across the world. Because of the scale of the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, they were able to separate out tobacco and alcohol use.

More than 23,000 of these women did not drink and among them there was no significant difference between the rates of breast cancer in smokers and non-smokers. However, Sir Richard Doll, a co-author of the study, said smoking is known to cause 15 other types of cancer.

“While breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, survival rates are relatively good,’’ he said. “A woman is more likely to die of lung cancer because it is notoriously difficult to treat.’’

The average alcohol intake for British women has increased from around 7 gm to 8 gm (or one unit) per day in the past decade but among younger women the increase has been greater.

It is not clear from the study whether the increased relative risk of breast cancer for women who drink comes from their current consumption of alcohol or if is based on long-term or past drinking habits. The researchers said they did not know why alcohol increased the risk of breast cancer, but said it might be that it affected oestrogen levels.

The overall risk of breast cancer means that by age 80 there will be 8.8 cases per 100 women. This increases to 9.4 cases for those who have one alcoholic drink daily, and goes up to 13.3 cases for those who have six drinks each day.

Prof Valerie Beral, of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford and a co-author, said: “The impact of drinking on breast cancer is small compared to childbearing factors but women are drinking more now than they used to and if this pattern continues it is bound to have an impact on the rate of breast cancer in the future. Alcohol is a small part of the breast cancer story, but it is something that is easy for women to change.’’

Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “This research doesn’t alter our advice on smoking because we already know that it’s dangerous, but it does reinforce our advice that excessive drinking can also be hazardous.’’ DPA

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TRENDS & POINTERS

Chemotherapy sans painful side-effects

CANCER patients undergoing chemotherapy will no longer have to endure the painful side-effects associated with the treatment.

US researchers claim to have successfully tested a new technique in laboratory animals that would concentrate the impact of cancer drugs on specific cancerous tissues only, thus sparing healthy tissues in the body from harm.

Developed by researchers from Brigham Young University, the method, details of which are published in the December issue of the journal, Cancer Research, combines two, key innovations: packaging a drug in tiny molecules of water-soluble plastic so that the drug would not interact while passing through a patients bloodstream, then using ultrasound to release the drug from its package at the specific part of the body affected by the cancer.

William G Pitt, professor of chemical engineering at BYU and principal investigator on the project, said he is pleased that the tests produced significant reductions in the size of tumour in rats. ANI

Boys eat cat that stole Christmas dinner

Three Kenyan schoolboys have been arrested for eating a cat they suspected of stealing chickens set aside for their Christmas feast, newspapers reported on Wednesday.

The three boys aged 12-14 killed, skinned and roasted the cat for lunch last Thursday, the state-owned Kenya News Agency (KNA) reported. They were arrested after complaints from residents in Mororo village in eastern Kenya. Reuters

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Long is the night to him who is awake; long is a mile to him who is tired; long is life to the foolish who do not know the True Law.

If a traveller does not meet with one who is his better, or his equal, let him firmly keep to him solitary journey; there is no companionship with a fool.

***

“These sons belong to me, and this wealth belongs to me”, with such thoughts a fool is tormented. He himself does not belong to himself; how much less sons and wealth?

The fool who knows his foolishness, is wise at least so far. But a fool who thinks himself wise, he is called a fool indeed.

***

If a fool be associated with a wise man all his life, he will soon perceive the Truth, as little as a spoon perceives the taste of soup.

If an intelligent man be associated for one minute only with a wise man, he will soon perceive the Truth, as the tongue perceives the taste of soup.

***

Fools of little understanding have themselves for their greatest enemies, for they do evil deeds which may bear bitter fruits.

That deed is not well done of which a man must repent and the reward of which he receives crying and with a tearful face.

***

As long as the evil deed done does not bear fruit, the fool thinks it is like honey; but when it ripens, then the fool suffers grief.

Let a fool month after month eat his food (like an ascetic) with the tip of a blade of kusha grass, yet is he not worth with the sixteenth particle of those who have well weighed the Law?

***

An evil deed does not turn suddenly like milk; smouldering it follows the fool, then it destroys his bright lot, nay it cleaves his head.

— The Dhammapada

Compiled by Satish K. Kapoor
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